Happy Ada Lovelace Day! That’s right, today is the day on which we all raise a toast to celebrate the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
In case you’re not up on your 19th Century female mathematicians, Ada Lovelace was born Ada Gordon in 1815, the only child of the brief and turbulent marriage between the poet, Lord Byron, and his maths-loving wife Annabella Milbanke.
Apparently, Ada’s mother was so put off by Lord Byron’s volatile poetic temperament that she opted to raise her daughter under a strict regime of science, logic and mathematics. This, combined with her passion and ingenuity, stood her in good stead to become one of the most powerful symbols for women in technology.
In 1833, Ada met Charles Babbage, a genius professor of mathematics who had already received plenty of attention off the back of his visionary, although unfinished, designs for clockwork calculating machines.
Babbage and Lovelace became lifelong friends. Babbage described her as “that enchantress who has thrown her magical spell around the most abstract of sciences and has grasped it with a force which few masculine intellects could have exerted over it,” or an another occasion, as “The Enchantress of Numbers”.
Before she died of cancer at the tragically young age of 36, Ada expanded on Babbage’s plans for the ‘Analytical Engine’ and these notes became a key resource for Alan Turing in his later work on the first modern ‘computing machines’ in the 1940s.
Fast forward to the UK in 2015, and what has become of Ada’s legacy for women in tech, engineering, mathematics and computing? Well, frankly, we could do better. At the last time of asking, only 16% of students taking computing at GCSE were female, and at a time when we need to find at least 800,000 new digitally skilled individuals by 2020 to meet market demand it that seems like we are missing an opportunity.
On the bright side, that number of female GCSE students has grown fourfold in the last year and will continue to grow, as it becomes plainer that there are huge opportunities in tech in the coming years.
The key is surely in communicating the benefits of studying science, engineering and computing to girls and young women, and then communicating the benefits of a career in tech and digital when they leave education. There are so many creative and rewarding career paths in the sector which could be filled by a largely untapped pool of talent.
Once women are in place in traditionally male-dominated roles in traditionally male-dominated companies, there needs to be a cultural shift towards rejecting inequities and unacceptable attitudes and removing barriers for progression. Only when a firm’s culture and attitude is right – from board level downwards – will women find true equality in tech and everyone will reap the benefits.